"A STORY OF NORTHERN LIFE"
from the book
"Beyond the Circle"
by Leo Trunt
Published with Permission of the Author
Transcribed by Karen Klennert
For Purchasing Information, Contact Leo Trunt
This story is derived from the memoirs of William Albert Gray. He formerly went by the name of
Starreitt. His work was entitled, "The Story of Western Life." Bert Gray was a close friend to the
Family of Jacobson, Minnesota. He had no family of his own, and so his memoirs were given to
Much of Gray's memoirs deal with his life in Iowa, and the western parts of the United
spent the last years of his life in northern Minnesota, more specifically in the Swan River and
Jacobson area. In an effort
to show how one man lived after the turn of the century, this portion of his memoirs is now
recorded for posterity.
Gray lived life to the fullest. He had sampled different ways of making a living such as being a
cowboy out west. He wanted to see the "Great Northland" and so he began the life of a trapper,
logger, and game
hunter. While Gray states that he came in 1902, he is listed in the 1900 census of Ball Bluff
Township. The enumerator
states that Gray is 25 years old with his occupation as a river driver. As the memoirs were written
about 1910, the
writing characteristics are somewhat different than today. Some corrections were made by the
editor in the areas
of grammar and spelling. Most of the original text was kept to maintain the spirit of the memoirs.
The fall of 1902 found me making my way for the cold regions of the north for an old time
hunt in the
forests and hills. My plans were to trap all winter and the following spring.
As I had been out a few times before on small hunts, I was not altogether a tenderfoot,
yet this was my first attempt at a good old time style hunt, many miles from friends. Had I had a partner or
friends, it would not have been such a task. (I was) striking out for the wilds with no friends, but hostile natives whom I
became acquainted with in the following story. (And so) I struck out as an old time hunter and trapper to
wilds unknown, to a climate very cold, where long hard winters have to be withstood as well as the
many hardships and troubles that make the trip one of adventure and interest. Were it not for the
hardships, there would be very little adventure. Of course, I realized the fact that a good partner would make it
more pleasant, but my partner was at home working in a bakery owned by his father, so I went alone.
Early Map of Ball Bluff and Cornish Townships
Courtesy of Aitkin County Land Department
I will not encumber this story with everyday doings, but I put in a fine winter. When the
deep, I made me a pair of snowshoes. When the crust got hard on top, I made a pair of skis, and if I
could get a
long slope of ground, I could keep up with a rabbit.
I made trips for miles out to small settlements for a chance to see someone once in a
while. I sent
out my furs two times during the winter and once in the spring. My catch was not so large, but the
higher I did pretty well, shipping my fur to Percy & Co. Fur House in Oshkosh, WI. I always got
of my fur. I got the price of fur every month by mail which kept me posted.
I killed only one wolf this winter that had been eating one of my deer I had in the woods.
standing on a stump about fifty yards from me, and for luck, I took a pop at him. I struck him in the
neck, breaking it,
and he tumbled off the stump. He would chase the deer no more. There was seven dollars bounty
and his hide was worth six dollars. A lucky shot for thirteen dollars. I wish I could have a shot at
Late in the spring I was getting ready to ship my last batch of furs. It was about the first
when one day, I discovered a huge track along the ridge below the camp, and on examining it
closely, I found it to be
a bear track. I had seen a track the fall before, and I now began to plan his capture as it would help
pocket, as well as having the fun of killing a bear. I discovered that he had been there several
followed up a little and found where he had been tearing up the snow, grass and dirt. I found that
something buried there or else it was an old horse that had been left there. I finally set a bear trap
by building a rude enclosure so he could get to his cache by only one way. Here I set the trap. I
thought of setting a gun for him so he would shoot himself, but this I omitted. I also bore a hole in a
close by, big enough for him to get his claws in. I then bore a hole on each side, slanting into this
hole. In these I drove hardwood pins well sharpened in solid and nailed them there. I went to
procured a quart of syrup juiced in about half. When the bear got a taste of the sweet, he would go
and plunge his whole fist into the enclosure. When he wanted to remove it, the pins would catch
each side, and the harder he pulled, the tighter he would be. He could now rave and tear, but he
handle a big birch log unless he tore out the side of the log and that would take some power.
Every morning I went to my bear haunt, but he wasn't there. I had nearly given up, when
evening about eight o'clock (I was just cleaning up the dishes), I heard the worst racket and from
the noise came to the
conclusion I had a panther, bear or some other big animal. I made me a pine torch, took my rifle
and hunting ax and started out on the war path with Beaver (my dog) by my side for he was almost
with excitement. I was just one hill away, and if I ever saw a vicious animal, this was it. He
looked like he
could swallow me at one bite. I guess he would have done something if he had got a hold of me.
show any mercy whatever, for the nearer I got, the madder he got. My, but he did tear around there.
the dog came up, he didn't pay any more attention to me, but was after the dog. Beaver didn't know
make of him, for it was the first bear he had ever seen, but he found out when he got a little too
Cinnamon Bear rolled him about twenty feet head over heels, and Beaver did not get so close the
I hated to kill the poor brute, but that was what I caught him for. I wouldn't wish to be near when he
foot free from that birch log. So I said now or never. I raised my rifle, held the torch in my left
hand so I
could see, and took good aim just behind the ear and fired. He let a noise out of him and pawed the
a few minutes, but my rifle was too much for him, and he finally fell over struggling his last.
I now had a change of diet which was bear meat. I was sorry he wasn't a black bear for
have been worth more. Brown bears being worth only $10.00 to $15.00. Black bears from $15.00
to $30.00. I
was now a bear hunter, but failed to see any more.
After I had shipped my last lot (of furs), I rested up for a few days and then packed up
wanted and hid the rest until such time as I wanted them. I went up to the Chippewa Reservation on
Big Sandy Lake
with my Indian friend whom I knew as Charlie Chin. I stayed with the Indians awhile and watched
deer hides and bead moccasins. I had them make me a buckskin suit and a pair of moccasins for
winter. I was out hunting and fishing with them and soon got well acquainted and learned to
Chippewa language. I learned to talk it a little. They called me their paleface brother. You could
known me from one of them in my buckskin suit and tanned face.
When the river began to warm up by the spring sun, I went out to look for a job for a few
I finally landed on the Swan River by way of the Great Northern Railway. I started to work here
for a man by the
name of J. C. Patterson, whom I called Captain Jack. He was getting out cedar, oak and pine ties,
poles. I was now tackling a new business that I knew nothing of. I was a fellow that loved
adventure and I
was always ready to try something new.
Swan River Logging Company's Log Landing at Mississippi Landing in Jacobson
Courtesy of Walter Schularick
I started to work for thirty dollars per month. He had the timber all ready on the banks of
River. All we had to do was to raft them. Every morning by day light found us on the river banks.
First a pine or cedar
was rolled to the edge of the bank and then two strong ash poles were secured, one on each end of
by means of chain dogs, which are a couple of flat stakes joined together by a short chain. One of
were driven on each side of the white ash pole into the log. Then a coil of rope was secured, one
around the pole and at the end of the log, then another around the other end of the pole which was
thirty feet long. The first rope was given to a man who either tied the rope across the stream, or if
in a bend
of the river, where the swift current was just slight. He secured it to a tree on the same side, the
being to get the frame into the middle of the stream and still have the log straight with the stream.
hand at rafting after the log was shoved off the bank (sometimes six or ten feet steep) would make
The man was to jump on the log with a hammer scherin dogs and a fury. Another with a peavey
the tied logs, or whatever was to be rafted, and another caught the timber as it came down stream.
steady work, it was guided under the claris poles where it was fastened as the first. If you were
sent a good
hand about the time a timber struck the log you were on, you would likely go overboard in the ice
and thus hear your partners laughing at you, what without anything even striking you in the swift
Your nerves would fail you by the constant rocking of the water, and every time anyone would
move, the log
would be sure to sink in the swift stream.
After we had built a raft large enough to turn around in the river, one of us would board
it and run it downstream some distance and by means of ropes were able to tie it along the bank. The first
time they sent me down, I snubbed up the raft too quickly and "whack" went the rope. I had taken pains to
land there by jumping for the bank, but instead of making shore, I went into the river up to my arms which
nearly took my breath as it was pretty cold. It was nothing after you learned the trade, running along the bank in
mud to your knees, snubbing the raft to trees until you got where the stream wasn't so swift.
Swan River was noted for its swift current. A person could drift seven miles an hour in
steadiest water. When you struck rapids, of which the river was full of, I don't know how fast we
did go. I know when we
struck a rock, it would mash the raft to splinters. When you were sent to tie up a raft, it was your
duty to get
it to shore in a certain place. You had to get it there the best you could. Snubbing up a large raft in
stream is likely to cause a little effort on your part with care being taken not to get your hand in the
you did, it would grind them to meal. If the rope busted, your work was all in vain, and you would
board the raft any way you could, splice the rope, and try again. If you were gone a little too long,
would be sure to hear from the boss. If you got hung up, you would have to jump in. Ice cold water
excuse if you wished to hold your job. You would have to pry the raft off the best you could,
seldom hung up unless in still water. When it did, you had to work to get it off.
You would get to camp about 9 o'clock, if not later. A fire and some coffee was started
roll yourself in a blanket and sleep. After the excitement of the day, you may have "nightmares,"
would swim all night and wake up fighting for a raft on the rapids.
If you were going to build a raft across the river from camp, you would find a piece of
it. If you were in such luck as to be able to ride the log, you would do so. If you ended up in the
would likely suffer cramps in your legs from the cold water, but there is nothing like getting used
to it. Be an
all around tough guy while you can. That's the way we talk to a tender foot.
Sunday was no exception. We worked every day alike, rain or shine, wet or dry.
Daylight in the
morning was our time to start work. We had handled many heavy oak logs. Rolling them on the
bank was hard work
and picking up green oak ties was harder.
I received many a talking to for my mistakes. The more I would try, the more luck went
me. At first, I was mad enough to jump my job, but yet I felt guilty to experience such mishaps. I
was losing axes,
hammers, and peaveys every little while, but they were charged up to me, so it did not make any
to them. They could charge me double the price if they chose, and I would not be the wiser.
Time was of the essence to go to one camp after another, and not at all slow, for there
time to lose rafting. Everything went in a hurry. The boss was yelling at the top of his voice half
the time. If one of us
was too slow, he would turn us off and get another. It was very few who held their place, for a
man had to
work like a slave. A little bag on your back contained a little cold biscuit with meat and Oleo,
which is a
substitute for butter. You sat down and ate that when the boss yelled dinner. You ate it as fast as
wash it down with a little river water, and then onto your feet again, sweating like good steel when
your breath on it.
When we stood waist deep in water fishing for an oak log that would not float but had
sunk, it was
work to get it up. In a cold down-pouring rain, the ropes and tools would get so cold and slippery.
You would not
soon forget such an experience. Next summer when the river dried up, we would fish up all the
axes, hammers and stuff and use them next time for someone else to lose. Peaveys cost $3.50, axes
$1.50, hammers were $2.00, and chain dogs were 15 cents a piece. Pick poles would sink but they
break easily when picking or steering rafts in the stones of the rapids, which were so numerous in
and made the current so swift. My hair would stand on end every time I was going over the bad
One end of your raft would strike a rock so hard it would knock you to the other end,
another, knock you back, and the raft looked like it was going to be torn to pieces. It would
actually scream and groan with
so much power behind it. It would swing around the rock with a sudden swish, and then go along at
rate. It would seem you were actually cutting the wind, and with the roar like thunder pounding
thousands of rocks, you could not hear yourself yell. In all, it was a dismal period. It was your duty
off of the biggest rocks. You would have to use your strength in guiding off of a certain rock long
you got there, for in such water a man's strength means nothing. Your raft would hit here and there,
keeping the raft in a jumping motion all the time. If you would strike a double header, you did well
to stay on
the raft. You would go a half mile over such, you would think the danger was over, when all at
once you felt
a falling sensation. You would wake up to where you were, and then you struck the raft again and
you were stranded, run right up on top of a rock. The raft would be bulged up in the middle of the
that is where the rafts go, for that is where the current is. If you had any tools aboard you took care
them, for they were always in danger of being lost, and then charged to you, besides (receiving) a
lecture for getting hung up. I would not tell the reader what kind of language or lecture I got, but
imagine how they talked.
If your raft was hung up solid, you were then supposed to get off in the water to your
your arm pits
or whatever depth it was. The water was ice cold and the current so swift that it would take you
off of you
feet if you let loose of the raft. It was the order of the day to work and twist till you got it off, and
not too long
either, or the boss would be around. You would have to be careful to be ready to jump on it, for it
start when you least expected it, and would not wait for you to get on when it started. You should
in front of the raft or down stream of it, for when the raft started, it would put you under and run
and likely grind you into mince meat on the rocks.
If you did not get your raft off the rapids before another raft came along, in all
knock you off or else it would run on top of yours and make a worse mess than ever, and you had
to be as
spry as a wild cat to escape a broken leg if not a broken neck. We once had three rafts hung up
top of one another. I took for shore in that swift rapids, and I got a few hard jolts on the rocks, but
helped me along faster. We now had to catch the rafts following before they reached the rapids and
Once in a while a man was sometimes left to take care of five or six rafts. If they got
hung up, you
jump from the one you were on to the one hung up. The rafts would pass each other if the space
great. In that case, you had to get to it the best you could, always falling behind jumping all the day
you reached the mouth of the Swan River, where they were all tied up by means of a long coiled
Rafts were tied along both sides of the river in a string, and if one got away, you got a good calling
for not throwing the coil straight. Then a boat had to be taken down the Mississippi River, catch
the raft and
haul it into land. The Mississippi being so wide, it was no small job, perhaps taking two or three
miles to get
to shore for the water was very high in the spring. When there were two or three that were hung up
one man could not get them off, we all went back, waded or swam to them and helped them off.
they had to be all torn to pieces. In that case, a boom was stretched somewhere so the timber was
from entering the Mississippi.
We worked until they were all at the mouth of the river. It was quite a sight to see long
from land to a raft coming down stream to be tied up. Then would come the job of taking four of
or brills and tying, spicing the four in a square, thus making a very large raft to go in the
Mississippi. In that
way our number of rafts were reduced. Each night we had five or six miles to walk to camp and
we would bring along some more rafts until the river was so full that it backed up the water above.
work began to splice the rafts together, we took a tent and a lot of provisions and cooking utensils
camped near our work. When the last job was done, they were turned loose, a little while a part
other, till it was in the great Mississippi. Eventually they were all gone, and we generally turned
about three o'clock in the morning, then by daylight we would start after them in a boat. After
rowing hard a
few hours, we would overtake the first one. One of us was left to ride on the last raft to follow up.
was always left to watch camp, take care of the horses until our return, taking us about two weeks
the trip to Aitkin. Every night we camped on the banks of the Mississippi.
When we got down the river, we occasionally passed a farm house where one of us
would go and
milk, eggs, butter, or whatever we wanted. Every morning about three o'clock found us rowing
overtake the rafts and get ahead of them.
When we got to Aitkin, the rafts were all caught near the mill, and by a little wet work,
we got the
stuff on the
banks, oak logs and pine logs, oak and cedar ties, posts and oak pilings, and cedar poles. Much of
timber was forty or fifty feet long. When it was settled for, we got our pay, generally being about
months worth if we started at the beginning. We now went uptown, for we didn't see a town very
blow our stake. That is, those that wished to. If there were any who was stingy with their money,
not liked by the crowd and in consequence got the worst of it, as the rule was give and take. The
men would enforce their rules on all. They make a stake, the next day they are broke. A hundred
nothing to them. They drink it up or gamble it away just as they please, then go back to work again.
It was a fine evening as we all went up the old foot trail, there being about a score of us.
made a pretty
tough looking crowd, but nothing unusual in that wild northern town. Dressed in style, that is,
style. It was common to see a fellow coming down the street with a pair of driving boots corked on
bottom (that is full of spikes about a half inch long) which stuck to the sidewalk at every step. A
might have suspenders that were faded to all colors, maybe a leather belt, an old shirt cut off at the
below the elbow, and an old hat with a dozen or more rifle holes in it.
Well, it was a fine evening as I said before, when the whole of us entered a barroom
where we were going to stop overnight. Of course the first thing they wanted was a drink of
genuine stuff or
good whiskey. They did not stop at the first drink, but kept on drinking. Some would start to go
someone would yell, "Everybody drink!" and back to the bar they went. That's the way it was.
got so full, they were mad with whiskey. They even got the bartender scared and people were
see what would happen.
Of course, I had learned to keep friendly with them, though I didn't drink myself. Finally,
stepped up to the bar, and with a voice sounding like a lion yelled. "Everybody forward! Drink!
It's as free
as the whiskey from the rye field! Drink, everybody drink!" Everybody went up but me. I was
looking at a
mixed pack of cards, when the big fellow got his eye on me. "Here boy, you come here, and get
make a man of you. Don't take a back seat on such an occasion. I never allow anyone to be slighted
Uncle Joe is around." He walked up, took me by the collar, and led me to the bar.
"What's yours?" asked the bartender.
"Water, please," I said.
"Listen at that will you!" said the Big Jack. "Didn't you get enough water in the rapids
dunked? Are you really kid enough to dare to say water when I'm around?"
"I don't need such a strong stimulant as you, Uncle Joe, so you must excuse me," I said.
"Excuse you, the devil you say. Drink or by Joe McStalla, I will pour it down you. I say
was getting raving mad now, for he was full of whiskey to the brim. I started to walk out. "Stop
there you little
devil, or I will put two holes through you while you are turning around! Damn you little stupid
devil! If you
know who you are going against, go ahead!"
The rest had crowded in a circle for they were expecting to see some fun. I had seen a
in the big man's hand, and from his looks, he meant every word he said. My comrades were foolish
themselves with whiskey so they were ready for some excitement. Big Joe ordered a glass of the
stuff in the house for me, but I declined to drink.
I said, "Drink it for yourself, Joe, for me." I saw his eyes flash, and his hand grip the butt
"Don't you do it, Joe. You will get the worst of it in the end," I said.
Bang-bang! went the weapon faster than you could count. "You dance, you Devil! I will
by inches! Dance, I tell you!"
"I can't dance, " I said, "And I won't dance for a drunken fool like you, and I mean what I
glass. You tend to your...." Bang
The crowd was yelling amidst the smoke. "Stop shooting off my boot heels. They cost
going to have them shot to pieces by such as you. I don't have $7.50 every day to buy shoes, " I
While he was the worst he could be, as quick as a wild cat, I knocked the weapon out of
exploded as it fell, but was harmless, no damage but the hole in the floor. I didn't wait to see much,
one bound, I was clear out the door and into the darkness of the night.
I was glad to get away. I made for the river, found our boat, and ate lunch. It was now far
took a couple of blankets, went off into the pasture, rolled up in my blankets and went to sleep. The
been a hard one on me to say the least. The excitement didn't bother my dreams any, as I was too
realize the danger in such a crowd of drunken maniacs. When I woke early the next morning, I
of them in the boat, and the rest were scattered all over, dead drunk.
This was my first such experience with such a mob, and I was glad to leave the place. I
the river. I stopped off at the Sandy Lake Indian Reservation. The man that owned the steamer also
whiskey to the Indians, which made them pretty noisy. It made them wild and you could hear them
all night long. The boat stopped over a night at every trip, and the Indians would spend their time
spent a pretty good time there, getting them to tan a couple of buck skins for me. I found these
friendly, and they treated me as an honored guest. I also was honored with their great feast, which
nothing more than good, healthy, fat dog meat. I had a good time with this tribe of Indians, and they
me to make them a visit whenever I felt like it. I had learned their dialect or language, and in that
way, I was
soon a friend of the tribe. I also had the pleasure of seeing them make a birch-bark canoe.
I finally left there, took a steamer up river, and arrived at the logging camp. I stayed
summer, doing nothing but hunt and fish.
Early Logging Efforts on the West Side of the Mississippi River in Ball Bluff Township, 1906
Courtesy of Walter Koski
About the first of August, I went out to the settlement (Swan River) and worked at a hotel
wood, working in the garden, taking care of stock, and other work in general. The mosquitoes got
so thick down
on the river, I got sick of fighting them day and night. The flies were so bad that the horses had to
in a dark barn all day. If you took them out to water, when you got them back to the barn, the blood
just be running off of them. July and August were the only bad months, and you would hardly see
before or after that time.
Thomas J. Feeley's Hotel at "Old Swan River"
Leo Trunt Collection
The mosquitoes were actually so large and thick they would nearly darken the sun. They
in a cloud. You could hear them most all night up in the sand hills, but the nights being so cold in
they did not last long.
I worked there until the mosquitoes were gone, and my old boss came and asked if I
rafting. I had said that I would not raft again. After a long sociable talk, I said I would not have it
so hard this
time, and I also wished to hunt with Captain Jack. The coming fall I again hired out for $1.50 a
day. I was
now considered a fair hand at rafting. The boss was just going to take a small raft, as it was late in
season. We had the same old trick over again as before. They had lifted the gate at the dam on
and were going to drive them through into the Mississippi.
I didn't expect to go to Aitkin this trip. I had a fine job this time. Twice a week I had to
go to the
and pack provisions. It was eight miles to the settlement by an old Indian trail, which made it
every trip. Sometimes I had eighty pounds to pack, which got pretty heavy by the time I got to
camp. I was
through with work by the last of September. Since the dam was opened already at Swan Lake, I
up the river to the lowest driving camp. I hired out as a driver, but had never ridden a log before,
I was rafting.
They soon found out that I was green at the job, but a fellow I got acquainted with helped
me out. I
along with him. I was ready and willing to learn, and as I was not afraid of water, I soon learned.
me all the tricks of driving, breaking jams, where to begin the right swing or left swing or center,
other things which helps to make a driver. If men had been plenty, they would likely have tried to
on wages, but as they needed more drivers, they were willing for me to learn. They paid from
$5.00 per day, as it was dangerous work and so the wages were high. I was the only kid in camp,
as old lumber jacks did have lots of fun at my expense. I had lots to learn if I expected to be a good
I was going down the river the same way I was told to ride and follow up to a certain
bend. I was
along nicely when I struck a rock unnoticed, and in I went, not even taking time to get a few turns
out of the
log. In I went just like a big bull frog. It was a cold morning, and the water nearly took my breath. I
lunch wet, but did not take time to think of that for long. My peavey had gone to the bottom where I
the logs were running thin along there. I had to take the one I was on before. I was so cold and
were numb. I swam up to the side, which I knew better, but did not take time to think. I soon found
mistake, for when I would try to climb up on the side, it would roll and put me under every time or
backwards. I now went to end of the log, and had nearly gotten up, when my wet suit and the cold
forced me back. I now struck out for the nearest shore. I had to get there, sink or swim.
I was glad when I reached the bank. I built a fire, as I always had dry matches. I carried
waterproof match safe, which would float in the water any length of time and yet be dry inside.
After I had a
fire built of dry limbs, I made me some hot tea. My tea was wet, but that did not hurt it. I ate some
and meat and my boiled eggs were just as good as before the bath.
I now struck out for my old home, Captain Jack's camp, for we were near it. I borrowed
and when I was through, I returned it, but did not pay for the one I lost for no one knew I had lost
Captain Jack. It was the last driving I did on the Swan River.
I now went back to camp for I wished to put in a good fall hunting in the open hills along
the noted Mississippi with Captain Jack, Hays, and George Cox. We went among the lakes of Van Duse,
Black Face, Long Lake, and Hay Lake.
At Swan River there was a hotel that was owned by McDonald. A few months before
this, I had worked there. He was improving the station of Swan River a little. When I first came, there was
only a log post office. Now it was a frame building and a fine depot had been built and several buildings had gone
Swan River Logging company Office at Mississippi Landing, Built in 1892
Courtesy of Aitkin County Historical Society
Swan River Station was four miles from the river by the same name, and Swan Lake was
head of the river. The Swan River Logging Company ran a railroad up in the north country and
crossed the Great
Northern Railroad. The logs were rolled into the Mississippi and were driven down river.
(And so) we hit out for the hills. We went by way of camp and stayed overnight. In the
each of us had a pack load to carry besides 500 or 600 cartridges a piece and our rifles. The packs
were loaded with
a tent, blankets, salt, pepper, and a big bag of army hard tack. While hunting, we each carried a
a lunch, and a belt full of cartridges, knife, and hunting ax. I wore my buckskin on such occasions,
rest dressed in wool clothes, for they did not make a noise like cotton or duck clothes.
One man had two gallons of the finest whiskey, which hunters were never without, as all
take a sip each night as they came in tired and hungry. Of course, they wouldn't force any to take it
did not want it, but it was seldom that a fellow like that was seen in such a wild country. If you
refused they would
thank you, for it meant that much more for them. They thanked me quite a few times for I did not
drink at all
and felt just as good the next day as they did.
I killed my share of the deer. We had one big frying pan in the party, there being four of
would hold enough for all by frying two or three times normal size. You would be astonished how
much a hunter can
eat, and how good the venison tasted, salted nice, fried nice and brown being well chopped by our
knives on a stump. Then we would plop down on our blankets, which had a nice bed of spruce
under them. We would eat venison, hard tack, and pure coffee without cream or sugar, for hunters
carry such. I must say, I never felt better in my life than when I was hunting and camping.
When we got ready to travel, we picked up our stuff and went on to a change of hunting
everything in order. Everything in Captain Jack's party always went just so, and no one person had
than his share of the work. Captain Jack led our party. One would cook, one got the water and meat
another got wood for the night. We had some nice fires in front of our tents in a grove of pine or
near a lake or fine spring.
Every night was one to be remembered. The reflection of the fire in our tent gave light
and warmth, and the
birch wood would burn steady all night. A fire would hardly have to be started up once a night.
generally took turns in keeping the fire. If it was cold weather, one would watch until midnight,
was called to take his place, and there would always be a nice bed of coals to cook breakfast on.
Every fellow killed deer for himself and no two went together, though we would
sometimes hear the rifle
reports near us. One day, I thought they were shooting at me, for there were two rifles banging
the bullets were more than whizzing over my head. I got out of there as fast as I could. I always
but I didn't like that tune.
When I got to camp I asked who had been shooting at me, and they all declared they
would not shoot at
"Buckskin Bert" for they said I was too good a shot myself to take that much risk. They had called
every since I had come back from the Sandy Lake Reservation. I asked what two rifles were
four o'clock. "Red" (as we called him meaning George Cox), and Jack spoke up and said they
shooting about that time at a porcupine up in the top of a pine tree, but were off west about two
miles. I said
two miles or none, they made me dance out of there. I told them they had better drink my share of
rye so they could shoot better and not have to waste so much ammunition.
Some days later, we hit out for old Swan and reached camp before noon. I hired out to
Captain Jack for
$35 per month. He took my share of the deer, except the hides and horns which I took to Sandy
had them tanned. I also got a share of the great moose antlers for my run from the moose.
Captain Jack was going to log again that winter over in the Hay Lake country and would
have to build a new
camp. We did not start over before the lake was frozen solid. When the lake had frozen solid so
could cross on the edge, we started for Hay Lake. It was quite a job to move everything over, even
winters hay had to be hauled. It was quite a job, but not when a lot of woodsmen got hold of the
stuff. It was
not handled like they handle fine furniture in a factory, but was thrown or knocked around in any
get it there.
We got as far as the lake in safety, but when the horses got out about ten feet, the whole
horses and all, went through the ice. There were a number of springs close, and they had not frozen
Jack was not driving because if he had been, he would not have drove there, for he knew it was
There was a mess for a while, but as we were near the shore, it was not so bad. The water came to
of the sled, and the horses were floundering around breaking more ice. By getting into the water,
managed to get the horses unhooked, got them to land, hooked a log chain to the tongue, and
out. The sled was a mess. The water froze solid on our clothes so we dared hardly move. We
around where we wanted across the lake. We got ready to build, shoveling away the snow. Some
the timber to cut logs to build with while teams were hauling up the timber. A place had to be
the camp was to be set.
One evening, Captain Jack said, "Bert, we have got to have some of our moose meat or
venison. We have
got to have all we need so there is enough of it for all winter." He asked if Red and I would go
He said we could have four horses to pack the meat on, as there was no road in that country, only a
narrow trails where a horse could barely pass with a pack. We took a pair of blankets for we
would have to
We agreed to go. In the morning we started bright and early, each leading an extra horse
with a pack
saddle on. We got to where our big moose was and found that the coyotes had been bothering
decided to pack the meat in the morning so we tied or picketed out the horses on a ridge where
plenty of level ground. We gave them grain we had brought along, as the grass was snowed under
frozen like a rock.
We threw down our blankets, built a fire, cooked some meat, and ate heartily of such as
it was. I had
brought along my rifle as it is always safe to carry a rifle in a wild country. A fellow's pistol isn't
Red had left his at camp, and we were both glad that I had brought it. We thought the coyotes
would eat us
up before morning. We could see them running round in the dark, and they kept getting closer. The
they made would make a man's blood run cold, but by firing a shot at them once in a while, we
were able to
keep them at bay. We had meat roasting, and the scent attracted their curiosity to have some of it.
I was overly glad when morning came. I was done with that hideous coyote night.
Anyway, it was now in the
past. We found our packs were full when we got the moose meat and venison stored away on the
our two horses. We started for camp by way of Black Face Lake, which was better traveling. We
camp without any mishap, and Captain Jack was glad for a change of venison. We kept on packing
we had our meat all home, and hung up near our camp frozen hard. When we got all our game hung
along the camp, it made a pretty sight. When meat was wanted, we carried a deer in and hung it up
camp and let it thaw out a little. Then we would skin them and let the cook tend to the rest.
Now we had to build camp. We lived in a tent until about Christmas. Some readers may
think it impossible
to live in a tent when it is 20 or 25 below zero, but it was nothing thought of in that country. The
over a foot deep, and there was bad stormy weather. We lived as comfortable in a tent with a big
in front. (It was) as we wished to live, and (we felt) better than if we were in a first class hotel. Of
depended on whether you like camp life or not. On windy nights, your eyes would be nearly
but that was included in camp life and didn't cost you anything extra.
We had fried venison three times a day and good biscuits baked in a camp oven, and we
had a place
where we cooked and baked beans. We had a hole dug in the ground about two feet deep just under
we built our fire every night. It would fill up with live coals clear to the top. After we had
parboiled our beans,
always making the kettle clear full, we had put a lid down that fit tight so no dirt would get in. Just
went to bed, we would take a shovel and dig part of the coals out of the hole. We then set our
beans with chunks of fat venison on top. Then we covered the sides and top as full as possible, and
built our fire over it as usual. In the morning, we raked away the coals, and we found as good a
baked beans as can be had. Fried venison, biscuits and baked beans was what we lived on while
Every night the wolves were howling louder and louder. We built our camps out of logs
and made floors out
of hewed poles. Our camp was only intended for 15 men and was small, but was comfortable.
went out to look for a crew of men, he sent me over to the camp on Swan River to build up a fire
so a large
bin of potatoes would not freeze, as it had turned suddenly cold. It was pretty cold and I wanted to
get to the
camp as soon as possible. So like most fellows, I thought myself a great woodsman. I could not get
lost if I
tried. I didn't even take my compass, only my rifle. I didn't take the road, but struck off through the
and hills in the direction of camp. As the country was so rough with so many bluffs, no road had
made through there. The road went four or five miles out of the way, so I ate lunch and got started.
traveled towards camp all day and finally found myself near the Swan River. I took up the river,
but the river
being so crooked was going miles out of the way.
Finally about dark, I thought something was wrong. I knew I ought to have been to camp
a good while ago.
It was turning bitter cold. As I was wandering around, I fell through a sink hole clear to my waist
could recover myself. I caught hold of some brush, and in that way, I got out. The reader can
a fix I was now in, the minute I came in contact with cold air. I was frozen stiff, but I trudged on
find some land mark I knew, but all in vain.
I was lost to myself and everybody else. I almost gave up in despair. The sense or
thought of being lost, I
believe, would in a few days drive the strongest man crazy. It is a feeling I cannot express in
words. I had
left my matches, compass, knife, hunting ax, and all inside my buckskin suit when I had changed to
clothes after my fall's hunt. I was in a bad fix, with no fire to keep from freezing. I must keep
moving I said
to myself. I felt the cold, and the wind just went through me and took my breath at every start. If I
had a fire,
I would not have cared for I had my rifle to kill food with and could find my way out in the
morning. If no
other way, I could back track myself, but I had likely crossed my track so often it would be hard
work, but I
would freeze before morning. I felt the cold worse now. Being wet, it had frozen to ice. I even
froze so hard
that when I bent my knees, the pants were froze so hard that they broke.
Would I ever see another day? If only Captain Jack knew that I had not taken the road, he
would be after
me. I wished by noble dog, Beaver, was here to guide me out, but more as a companion. I felt so
lonesome, I was not much loss if I did freeze, as no one depended on me, but yet I hated the thought
freezing to death. All along I hoped for the best, for many had been lost in this same country and
Yet I kept plodding along to keep from freezing. Now and then I would fire a shot, though
I had little hopes
of being heard. The only person being near our camp was a man that worked for Jack sometimes,
he was sure to be at home. He and his brother were hunters and had lived there many years. I had
good many shots, plodding along at a very slow pace, as I could hardly walk from the intense pain
feet. But alas, I found my feet both frozen solid for they were numb and no life was left in them, no
and they would pain me no more. Now my fingers were kept warm by the occasional firing of my
the barrel got warm, but would soon be as cold as ever. I felt like throwing myself down in
despair. I had
wondered far into the night, and the cold northern winds were howling the most shrieking noises,
adding horrors to my fate.
Each hour seemed like days. I was just about done. I only had one more shot. I trudged
on again. I don't
know how many times I went around that circle as lost men do, but when I leaned against a tree
about all the mean things I ever did, I had a feeling like I was getting my punishment. Now I fired
shot into the air with despair and gave up all hope. But when my hope was gone, I heard
was it? A rifle shot? Could it be true? It must have been the echo of mine. Who could be out here
deserted land of hills?
I had really heard a rifle shot, but did not have the opportunity to answer with another
shot. Then off to my
right from the direction the shot came from, there I could see a light through the window, and how
was when I found I had reached help at last.
I was well acquainted with the boys and made myself at home, but my feet were frozen
stiff. They cut the
rubbers off of my feet and also the socks, for they were frozen fast to my feet. I was in bad
it not been for the boys, I would surely have lost both my feet. They worked with them a long time.
not how long, for I fell asleep while they were tending to my feet. They kept my feet in snow and
all the time rubbing my feet. I soon woke up from the intense pain. My feet were coming to, and
beginning to thaw out. It hurt a good deal worse than it did while they were freezing. I never felt a
pain in my life. It hurt worse than the time the stump pulled me in the fire and blistered my feet all
thought a burn was bad, but this was the awfullest experience of torture I ever endured. I had
cheeks and nose, but a little snow rubbed on them brought them out, but my feet were in a bad
froze my heels mostly, and I suffered about two weeks of intense pain. I could not bear my weight
I was laid up so I couldn't do a good day's work for nearly a month, but in two weeks I was able to
and work around the camp. I would wear no rubbers, but wore moccasins the rest of the winter.
my feet got cold, it would set me crazy. My feet would never stand the cold like they did before I
them. I was careful to take my compass and matches after that.
Along toward spring, our neighborhood was surprised by a band of redskins of about
forty warriors out for
a good old time, as they call it. They did not molest our camp, but had a wicked little fight in a
camp two and
a half miles east of us. Captain Jack and myself were out cruising timber all day and were just
camp about six o'clock when Jack called my attention to a peculiar yell as that of a wolf off to the
of us. I was deceived all right. I couldn't tell the difference. Captain Jack asked me if I ever heard
whoop or a real Indian yell when they were in their war paint. I told him I guessed I had, but did
remember it enough so I could tell another.
When Captain Jack informed me that there were Indians on the warpath around us, I
thought he was only
testing my bravery, and I didn't dream he meant it. I acted as if I believed him and was just as cool
could be. He seemed to admire my cool head, but he said this is not good for us to be
though we have brave heads, and at that, he started through the woods like a deer. I soon made up
mind what Jack had said was true, for just now a most piercing yell I ever heard came from a
more of reds. They had evidently not seen us. We made for camp, but before we reached the lake,
heard another band to the north. They were surely going to do some mischief. It was beginning to
and when we got to camp, we could hear the band getting closer to each other by their yells. Our
camp had been hearing the noise, and supper was eaten in silence. We didn't know what would
About eight o'clock we heard the very noise of Indian battle. The rifles were cracking on
both sides, and in
quick succession, a continuous shooting lasting only a few minutes. Then within the hour the sky lit
the fire of the camp.
We had a great notion to go to their aid, but we didn't know if there were some reds
scouting around right
now, and we didn't have much ammunition. As it was, the country had not been invaded with them
time though they had been over this country in small parties. Every spring the Indian agents were
refusing them food or some other thing and that made the reds rebellious and so they had skipped
reservation. Red, Jack, and myself were the only ones who had any ammunition to speak of. We
five or six rifles and about as many pistols of which concluded our weapons.
The Indian trail was only a half mile from the lake, and we expected an attack. If an old
buck got 20 or more
young Indians around him, telling them of the fun of taking scalps and fights he had in former days,
hard to tell where they would stop until an army got after them.
The camp attacked already belonged to Ed Hays, who had hunted with us the fall before.
We stood guard
all night. It was snowing very hard, but when Indians are least expected is the time they come, do
mean things, and then get to the reservation where they are protected by the government. If caught
the palefaces would spare no mercy, especially the great woodsmen when such mischief has been
for they will shoot them down. After they had fired the camp, the Indians scattered and made for
reservation. There wasn't a one to be seen save a few dead ones.
I slept with my rifle in my hands dreaming of Indian fights and such. At the very least
noise, I would wake
with a start, for I didn't want my scalp taken. I was glad when morning came, as I felt like I had
fighting Indians all night.
The next morning Captain Jack, myself, and Red went to see the ruins. We found the main
camp safe, but
Hays was looking pretty angry. It certainly looked like blood shed. It was a sight I tell you. A half
lying around, the hay all burned, and the stable burned with all the horses. They had killed and
cook and cookie. The men could not get to the cook camp, and thus the two cooks were shut off,
with butcher knives. It was the very scene of destruction. Everything was turned upside down.
Hays and Pancake (George Washington Pancake from Goodland, a noted hunter) are
crack shots and
were for ganging a party to punish them at once. Hays had a ball graze on his head. They blew out
lights so it would not give the reds the advantage. Captain Jack said he would like to see the
caught, but did not know whether he could leave or not. After a little thought he said, "Hays, I have
with you several times, and I'm going to help you out with this matter." I asked if I could go, but
me to stay at camp. I told him I would join the crowd, and it would not be anything out of his
Red, myself, Hays, Captain Jack, Pancake, and a party of Hay's men, who had rifles,
struck out. It was not
a hard matter to find the tracks of the Indians for moccasin tracks were thick. We would not waste
here for we would strike for the head of the Prairie River where the Indians would cross. The
now several hours ahead of us. When we arrived, we found they had gone by. But after a time, we
where they had a fire built, and there still was a fire, so we knew they were not far ahead. We had
look out, for if a band of 40 would surround our little party, we would have little show. We
divided into two
parties where the Indians had separated. One party had gone north. Hays took one party and
the other, each supposing to meet at Serca Lake, a full mile this side of the Chippewa Reservation.
end, we never got a one. The Indians were too far ahead of us. We had our minds made up that if
saw a red face peering through the brush, we were to capture him alive, if possible, and roast him
slow fire. For if the main band heard it, they would be more careful.
That was the last trouble I heard of while there. While I was on the reservation, I would
never dream that
they would cause so much mischief. But if a paleface got quarrelsome, they would chase him out
knives in the hands of the skilled red man.
Lots of trappers made their living by giving them whiskey. One reason the Indians break
out is the fault of
the Indian agents. They get careless in providing them with food. The Indians have a good trait. If
do one a favor, he will always remember you and will help you out if you get in a tight place. But
if ever you
play him a trick or do him an evil, look out for him as he will never forget it.
Long toward spring, a large bear kept coming every night to our garbage pile where the
cook threw all the
waste food, deer heads, and the like. Several nights we heard him out there. One night we had
We all rushed out of the camp yelling, and if ever a bear did run, he did. Down that hill through
making as much noise as an elephant, and then we would turn and run back.
The nosy devil would turn and come back, as bold as if it was a common thing. We
wouldn't be no more
than in camp when the cans and stuff would be rattling to beat the band. We ran him down the hill
times, and then Jack said he would puncture him if he got too gay for himself. He started to enjoy
of running downhill with us after him and would never fail to come back. Captain Jack took my
pretty soon fired, and we heard him going down the hill. He let him have another. He was a large
and his fur was fine.
I worked until about the 27th of March and having contracted to work for Leir W. Rood
Colorado, I left the wilds of the north for civilization for a few months.
And thus ends the story of my hunting expedition to the far north. I left my partner and
spotted Beaver with
Captain Jack until such time as I should call for him. I visited the docks at Superior and the
saw the large lake steamers, but they looked quite different, for their rigging was all off and they
frozen in. The masts all are quite a different scene from the fall when I came up. Thus I bid
farewell to that
country and its acquaintances.
Bert Gray came back to northern Minnesota and lived out the rest of his life here. He settled
on a farm on
the southeast quarter of section 24 in Splithand Township. Bert became good friends with the
Family. He died of tuberculosis in 1913. His memory lives on.
Here is a page with logging terms and information: Rural Heritage